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The city of Paris was shaken to its core recently with a string of deadly attacks

by Tim Burton-Jones, Near Neighbours 

I was sat in a small warm room that contained only tables, chairs, and a few children’s drawings on the wall. I was surrounded by a group of young Jewish activists and they were sat listening to and captivated by the gentleman to my left.

That small warm room was in a synagogue in Paris, we were just a five minute walk from the Bataclan, very much in the shadow of the violence that scarred this wonderful city and the man to my left was Mamadou, an Imam who works with individuals that have been charged with terrorism offences.

As the discussion with Mamadou moved forward it became apparent that a problem we all have to face is the reputation of faith in our society today. It’s hard to ignore

As I walked around Paris I could tell that, despite the usual December sparkle, there was a frank layer of reality that pervaded Paris as security remained tight.

Police presence was strong, members of the military carrying assault rifles could be seen, and security on the doors of major department stores and cafes ran metal detectors over customers, checked bags, and the inside of jackets.

The reality is that, as I sat in a Parisian café, I found it hard not to imagine what it was like to be in those cafes that were attacked. And, living in London, I now find myself spending slightly more time wondering what those loud bangs were that just echoed through the neighbourhood than I did earlier in the year.

This fear and caution is a reality that we face because people who claimed to act in the name of God decided to murder many innocent people. That is the sad reputation of faith this December.

Young Jewish activists with Rabbi Natan Levy and Imam Mamadou

Young Jewish activists with Rabbi Natan Levy and Imam Mamadou

One of the activists listening to Mamadou in Paris told him that it was not that they thought of bad things when they thought of Muslims, it was that they couldn’t bring to mind any positive news stories they’d heard about Muslims.

That comment really struck me, I don’t think it was said with an expectation that Muslims don’t actually do anything good, it was more of a matter of fact reference to the fact that they hadn’t heard of anything good. They hadn’t been offered a positive narrative to what they’ve heard in the press because they simply didn’t have the alternative information to do so.

What a shame that is. I have had the incredible privilege of spending the past year working with Near Neighbours where every day of my life is flooded with stories of amazing people of faith, who have joined with people of other faiths, and done wonderful things. My reality this year has been that people of faith have been changing communities for the better in this country.

My other reality has been the struggle of trying to share these stories. It is not easy to get good news out in a world obsessed with bad news. These good news stories eek out of all sorts of places, not just the Near Neighbours network, and I’d love to see more of them permeate the media sources we all rely on.

Wouldn’t you love to see the narrative surrounding faith become increasingly more positive? Speaking in a loud voice about all the good that is being done is key to responding to those with extreme views that would seek to divide us.

Rabbi Natan addressing synagogue for Hanukkah

Rabbi Natan addressing synagogue for Chanukah

Would you join me in continuing to share brilliant stories about faith? The Huffington Post and The Jewish News are two fantastic places where these stories are being shared and keep an eye on our blog, where updates from across the programme are posted regularly. Share what you see!

Mamadou and I had actually been invited to this synagogue by Near Neighbours’ advisor, Rabbi Natan Levy, for a service on the first night of Chanukah and during this Rabbi Natan was asked to say a few words.

In his elegant and poignant comments, Rabbi Natan reflected on how Chanukah is all about sharing a light in this world. He shared an analogy about candle lighting that is so important to remember this December; you can use your candle to light that of another and find your own light is no less diminished, but now you have twice the light.

Let’s share the light of the positive power of faith and not let violent people tarnish something that means so much to so many of us. After all, our own lights will be no less diminished from having done so!DSC_0090